What Is PCOS and Why You Should Know About It
Do you ever feel like your body is working against you in every conceivable way? Well, I have definitely been there. The worst part about hormonal changes is not knowing why you feel the way you do and not having any real solutions to help. As someone who was diagnosed with PCOS at 18, understanding my body has definitely been a journey. So, I am here to explain all the parts of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and how to help you understand it if you feel you share the same experiences.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. (1) Although the surface level diagnosis of PCOS can be through an ultrasound of one's ovaries to find developed cysts, this disorder can also be diagnosed from the many symptoms. The most common developments from PCOS include inconsistent menstrual cycles, excess male hormones, and an irregularity of egg release. This irregularity of egg release can lead to struggles when trying to get pregnant so it is best to identify your PCOS diagnosis as early as possible.
Symptoms of PCOS can vary but as little as two or more symptoms can be enough for a doctor to assess a diagnosis. Common symptoms of PCOS may include:
- Irregular periods
- Hormonal acne
- Excess androgen
- Polycystic ovaries
- Weight gain (or weight loss)
- Excess insulin
- Depression, anxiety, and/or eating disorders
These symptoms can range from mildly inconvenient to majorly challenging. Although something may seem insignificant at the time, symptoms for PCOS are known to worsen over time if not treated or cared for properly. It is best to catch these symptoms as early as possible to avoid major hormonal challenges down the line.
Commonly, women become aware of their diagnosis when trying to become pregnant because they are having trouble conceiving. Catching PCOS early in life is the best way to monitor and control health issues down the line. It is also important to consult a doctor that fully understands PCOS and is someone you can trust to provide you with information and resources that exceed past “try to lose weight,” because PCOS is so much more.
How to Treat It
Although there is no cure for PCOS per se, there are plenty of remedies to help aid the many symptoms of PCOS. One major treatment can come from exercise and a balanced diet. Because one of the symptoms of PCOS is excess insulin, avoiding or cutting back on added sugars and carbohydrates can help regulate your hormones and lower insulin levels.
Treatments for PCOS can also come from prescribed medication. One of the most common prescriptions for PCOS is birth control. Birth control can be extremely effective in regulating menstrual cycles as well as lowering androgen (male hormones) and raising estrogen (female hormones). Excess androgen, which is a major symptom of PCOS, can lead to excess hair growth on the face and body, male pattern baldness, weight gain, and more. Balancing your hormones with birth control can lead to a decrease in many of the hormonal symptoms listed above.
Another common medication for PCOS is metformin. Metformin is meant to improve insulin levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Although this pill helps regulate insulin levels, it is also an ovulation stimulant for those who may be experiencing infertility with PCOS. For those who are taking this medication and not trying to get pregnant, be wary of this side effect and take the proper precautions if sexually active.
Coming From Me
As a diagnosed “cyster,” I understand how frustrating it can be to live with PCOS. Having unpreventable hormonal changes that affect major parts of your body can feel overwhelming and exhausting, especially when getting diagnosed as a teenager. Although the early stages of my diagnosis took a serious toll on my mental health, I have since found ways to manage my PCOS and have filled my life with hacks and resources to best regulate my hormones.
The tricky thing with PCOS is that it can affect everyone differently. As a disclaimer, my personal life choices may work best for me but not always for anyone with PCOS. It is best to consult a doctor that you trust before engaging in any life-changing methods. With that disclaimer in mind, some ways I have managed my PCOS is through exercise, diet changes, prescribed medication, and facial treatments.
I choose to take very maintainable exercise and diet choices to remain as consistent as possible. I typically do moderate-intensity workouts and aim for gluten and dairy-free choices (when I can) while also limiting my sugar intake. I find that consistency is key in seeing any real results, therefore not putting too much pressure on unrealistic goals is my best method. I also take birth control and metformin to regulate my hormones and insulin levels. With that, I am on a predictable period schedule and I have seen a notable change in how my body digests food.
Lastly, I do experience hirsutism (male pattern hair growth) as a side effect of PCOS. Therefore, I do laser hair removal treatments on my face to minimize excessive growth. I am also on Curology for my acne which has made a major difference in my skin.
Another great resource that has helped me through my PCOS journey is @pcos.weight.loss on TikTok. Tallene is a PCOS dietician who posts helpful hacks, basic tips, and overall information to best understand living with PCOS. As someone who has PCOS herself, she posts what works best for her and what were some major failures throughout her journey. She also has a podcast with her husband where they bring on professional speakers and dive even deeper into living with PCOS.
The More You Know
If you think you might be struggling with some of the symptoms presented with PCOS, get in contact with a trusted doctor who can provide you with catered information on how to treat it. Although there is no cure, PCOS can be a very manageable syndrome that has a community full of women who experience the exact same struggles.
Written by Daniela Rodriguez